The Nonviolent History of American Independence: Interview with Rivera Sun

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Published on Rivera Sun on July 30, 2016

Interview with Rivera Sun on August 14, 2016

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CNV-July-4-MemeIndependence Day is commemorated with fireworks and flag-waving, gun salutes and military parades . . . however, one of our nation’s founding fathers, John Adams, wrote, “A history of military operations . . . is not a history of the American Revolution.”

Often minimized in our history books, the tactics of nonviolent action played a powerful role in achieving American Independence from British rule. Benjamin Naimark-Rowse wrote, “the lesson we learn of a democracy forged in the crucible of revolutionary war tends to ignore how a decade of nonviolent resistance before the shot-heard-round-the-world shaped the founding of the United States, strengthened our sense of political identity, and laid the foundation of our democracy.”

One hundred-fifty years before Gandhi, the American colonists employed many of the same nonviolent actions the Indian Self-Rule Movement would later use to free themselves from the same empire – Great Britain. The boycotting of British goods (tea, cloth, and other imported items) significantly undermined British profits from the colonies. Noncooperation with unjust laws eroded British authority as the colonists refused to comply with laws that restricted assembly and speech, allowed the quartering of soldiers in colonists’ homes, and imposed curfews. Non-payment of taxes would prove to be a landmark issue for the independence movement. The development of parallel governments and legal structures strengthened the self-rule and self-reliance of the colonists and grew local political control that would ultimately prove strong enough to replace British governance of the colonies. Acts of protest and persuasion, petitions, pamphlets, rallies, marches, denouncements, legal and illegal publications of articles, and disruption of British meetings and legal proceedings were also employed.

Some of the most powerful boycotts in nonviolent history occurred in the New England colonies against the British Crown. Though the term boycott would not emerge for another hundred years until the Irish coined it during tenant and land struggles, what the colonists called “nonimportation programs” dropped British revenue in New England by 88 percent between 1774 and 1775. In the Carolinas, colonists deprived the Crown of 98.7 percent of import revenue. Moreover, in Virginia and Maryland, the rate reached an impressive 99.6 percent participation.

Resistance to the Stamp Act of 1764 thru 1775 dropped revenues 95 percent below what was expected. The British could not even pay for the cost of enforcing the Stamp Act throughout the colonies, and it was repealed in 1766. Newspapers published without paying the Stamp Tax used noms de plume to avoid reprisal. Courts closed because lawyers and judges refused to pay the Stamp Act for the printing of court documents. Shipping permits were supposed to be stamped, and, since merchants and shippers refused to pay the tax, ports closed, and even official documents were not delivered! Merchants of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia pledged a nonimportation pact until the Stamp Act was repealed. Six months later (at a time when crossing the Atlantic by sail took at least six weeks, and sometimes as long as three months), the Crown repealed the Stamp Act under pressure from its own panicked merchants.

In a campaign that is strikingly familiar to Gandhi’s spinning campaign, the American boycott of imported British cloth held spin-ins, whereby young women gathered in large groups to spin homespun yarn for weaving cloth. Colonists even stopped wearing the traditional funeral black (which mirrored English style) in protest of Great Britain. Women played significant roles in all the nonimportation programs, especially the resistance to the notorious Tea Act. While everyone remembers the Boston Tea Party’s dumping of tea into the Boston Harbor, few Americans have heard about how Susan Boudinot. She was the nine-year-old daughter of a New Jersey patriot, who, when handed a cup of tea while visiting the governor, curtsied, raised the cup to her lips, and then tossed the tea out the window.

These are just some of the many nonviolent actions engaged in by Americans in their struggle for independence. Some scholars even go so far as to call the Revolutionary War, the “War of Reclamation,” for the revolution had already been won in the hearts, minds, homes, and practices of the people by the time the British Crown sought to reclaim the independent and self-governing colonies. This Independence Day, tell the stories of the role nonviolent action played in establishing the United States. Perhaps by next year, we will be participating in re-enactments of spin-ins, holding mock funerals for Lady Liberty, and engaging in boycotts of imported goods to commemorate how American Independence was actually won.


ARivera New Hatuthor/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, Billionaire Buddha and Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, the cohost of Love (and Revolution) Radio, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network. She is a trainer and social media coordinator for Campaign Nonviolence and Pace e Bene. Sun attended the James Lawson Institute on Strategic Nonviolent Resistance in 2014 and her essays on social justice movements appear in Truthout and Popular Resistance.

2 Responses to The Nonviolent History of American Independence: Interview with Rivera Sun

  • tom jones says:

     to do is to go back to the start of this nation. Let's go back to the beginning so to speak.
    It is important to distort U.S. history from the very beginning, because from there most of us
    take off on the wrong track. This Author is going to ask the reader to check out these items about
    the Amer. Revolution for himself. Good American historians know the truth of what I am writing
    you, the information just never filters down to the common person. (Likewise, Masonic historians
    know of the Masonic involvement in history. They brag about their involvement to themselves,
    but the information doesn't filter down to the common person.)
    This Author wishes he had a dollar for everytime he had seen a cartoon, or sitcom, or other
    media show that represents the Boston Tea Party as an attack against high taxes.
    The Boston Tea Party is a favorite of their distortions. The Boston Tea Party is believed by
    most Americans to have been an act of defiance against a high Tea Tax. Actually, the Tea Tax
    Act had cut taxes in half. So why would the colonials become angry at a law that reduced taxes
    in half? The Masons who planned the Boston Tea Party in a Masonic Lodge were smuggling
    illegal tea. The reduced tax on legitimate tea (making legal tea more competitively priced) would
    cut into their profits of their illegal smuggling operation. Many, but not all of the men dressed
    as Indians, in the Boston Tea Party were Masons. It was greed and lack of respect for the law
    that motivated their criminal act.
    To quote one history book, "Colonial trade would be controlled more strictly than ever before.
    British soldiers would be stationed in great numbers and live among the colonists. New taxes
    would draw money from the colonies to the mother country."
    What a great distortion of history. It sounds like the poor Americans were being made to pay
    for their own oppression, and to surrender their homes to the British Army. It is difficult to learn
    from our history books, that the real reason the British Army came was to protect the frontier
    after Pontiac's rebellion. The British people were already paying higher taxes than the Americans
    and were having to bear most of the cost of defending the American colonies. The colonists were
    given the chance to propose alternatives before the taxes were passed, but they did not have any
    other solutions.
    One textbook states, "Franklin and other agents from other colonies tried to persuade Grenville
    not to have the Stamp Act passed." Actually, these representatives of the colonies were as
    surprised as the British government by the negative American reaction. It served an excellent
    purpose to allow what appeared to be an innocent law to pass. The negative reaction was part
    of an orchestrated secret effort by the Masons in both England and America to create an
    atmosphere of tension. They were working hard to get others involved.
    The British did ask that Americans (remember Americans then were British citizens) to house
    British troops. That was a practice that all of the entire British empire had to cooperate with. The
    conditions in those days, not only encouraged it, but almost demanded it. They did not have nail
    guns, and prefab military barracks in those days. With the housing and building situation in the
    colonies it was obviously the best solution, and most colonists did not object. (Actually, most
    British troops prior to the Revolution went to the British West Indies. During the Amer.
    Revolution the British kept a large military presence there against Spain and France, including
    large Naval forces because the West Indies were to many British strategists more valuable to
    But isn't this making it sound like there wasn't any reason for a revolution? Wait, we're not
    finished yet.
    Before we look at why the Revolution happened, imagine what would have happened if it
    hadn't—the United States would be like the American colonies that didn't revolt—like Canada
    and the Bahamas. We might even be like Great Britain. If one examines the same textbooks that
    portray the British as villians in the Revolutionary War, when these textbooks get to W.W. I and
    II, they portray Great Britian as a great democracy. We entered those wars, we were told, to save
    democracy. If Canada and Britian can be heralded as such great democracies now, and have the
    same government system as they did back then, why did we need a revolution for "Freedom"?
    The truth is we didn't. We needed a revolution for "independence", but not for freedom.
    For instance, King George (whose character is grossly misdrawn in Amer. history books)
    righteously created a Proclamation line to protect the Indians from the encroachment of the
    frontiermen. Many white men did not know how to respect treaties with the Indians. The primary
    reason the frontiermen were in favor of the revolution was so they could steal the Indian's land.
    Again if the history books mention this, they often twist the facts ever so slightly to create a false
    impression. They make it seem like the Proclamation was irreversable.
    The Proclamation of 1763 was an excellent way to quell Indian trouble on the border.
    However, the textbooks falsely portray it as an irreversible act. It could repeatedly come up for
    reconsideration in 5 to 7 year periods. Scholars have trashed the propoganda image of King
    George as a tyrant, although the textbooks haven't.


    from Be Wise As a Serpent, Springmeirir 1991

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    Past data, while things were getting "better" in the sense of continuing to be able to strip-mine the natural resources of a fresh planet may well become increasingly irrelevant as the limits to growth, through diminishing returns, make "progress" become practically impossible, in ways radically different than those times in the past, when there were still a relative abundance of natural resources available to strip-mine.

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